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Basketball Film Fix: Robbie Beran’s weird but awesome skill

The junior forward has developed quite the niche skill here in 2021.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Due to the ever depressing reality that is this Omicron wave, there hasn’t been a lot of Wildcat basketball for all of us to enjoy this holiday season. Thus, as the preeminent basketball sicko on Evanston’s campus, I’ll be bringing you some daily clips and thoughts about Northwestern basketball and what’s been going on on the hardwood this season. First up is a breakdown of NU forward Robbie Beran and an aberrant but useful skill he possesses.

Robbie Beran is an odd player.

As I’ve said to many people many a time, he seems incapable of an average play on the basketball court. Everything is either a highlight-worthy sequence, or a catastrophic mistake that makes Chris Collins shout “ROBBIE!!!” loud enough for people to hear from the third level of Welsh-Ryan Arena. Last year’s most notable Robbie mistake was his stepping off of Justin Champagnie unnecessarily and surrendering the game-winning dunk in the team’s loss to Pitt. This year, my nominee has to be Beran completely zoning out and leaving Providence’s Noah Horchler — a 38.6 percent three point shooter so far this season, mind you — wide freaking open late in a close game.

I understand that Ryan Greer got beat off-ball by Aljami Durham, and Beran likely thought a top-lock and switch was the protocol here, but it’s pretty clear that wasn’t the plan, as Beran swivels his head in horror to find his man unguarded behind the arc.

Sorry Robbie, you’re not going to get there in time.

But enough negativity, it’s time to talk about what Beran is doing well here in his junior season. And no, it’s not his reliable 36.8 percent mark from three, nor his team-best 63.2 percent conversion rate on two-point attempts, nor any other stat that shows up on a sheet that we’re talking about today.

It’s time to talk about “Theis” seal master Robbie Beran.

In the summer of 2017, the Boston Celtics signed little-known center Daniel Theis, who had played in his home country of Germany for the duration of his professional career. Theis had a reputation as a stellar defender at the center position despite only standing 6-foot-7, but little did the Celtics know what Theis would bring to them on the offensive end of the floor.

He would never be much of a scorer himself in Boston, but he made the life of star scorers on his team far easier, consistently clearing lanes for the forward with the “Theis” seal, by which he feigned a post-up, but actually was screening off his man in the paint to give his teammate a wide open shot at the rim.

He has done it in prior seasons, but Beran has really mastered his “Theis” seals here in 2021-22. The 6-foot-9 forward is usually limited to catch-and-shoot threes and lob finishes for his scoring repertoire, and his passing is pretty ordinary, but his seal mastery is a great way for him to contribute to the team’s success, even though it appears nowhere in the box score.

Keep your eye on Beran here as Nance rips hard and slashes to the rim.

Is that a moving screen by definition? Yes, and that’s the point!

It’s such a weird place for a “screen” to occur that most officials don’t give it a second thought. This is bending the rules to your favor. This is finding value on the margins. It’s fantastic.

Also important is that Nance is the driver that Beran is clearing room for, similar to how Theis sealed off the paint for Jayson Tatum more than any other Celtic. Nance is the team’s best player and a scary threat whenever he attacks the rim, and Beran has accentuated that strength in a great way this season.

And before you ask, yes this is attributable somewhat to Northwestern’s coaching staff. Collins himself addressed the play above in his post-game presser following the loss to Wake Forest, saying that it’s a technique taught to the players and entrusting that they’ll know when to use it. It seems that the general rule for the ‘Cats is “if you see Nance go into iso mode from the top of the key, get to work on that Theis seal”. You can see Elyjah Williams give his best shot at the move here on this Nance bucket against Maryland.

But no one has quite the impact that Beran does when concocting this off-ball goodness. He’s a weird player to watch and analyze, but this weird skill of his is nothing but a positive for what has been a surprisingly fun team thus far.